Iconic Pens

The theme for our Saturday, October 24, 2011 meeting was “Iconic Fountain Pens”.   

What makes an item, such as a pen, iconic?  When most of us hear the word “iconic” we think of people, places or things that are famous, well-known, widely-known, celebrated, renowned, fabled, legendary, notorious, infamous, illustrious,  or perhaps even “the one”.  At least, those are some of the words that come to mind when I think of something that is “iconic”.  

The theme for this week was for our members to share their thoughts on those fountain pens that were icons from their perspective as well as the reason(s) for their selections.  We asked them to think about whether it was a popular or well-known pen?  Was it something to do with the pen’s design or looks?  Maybe it revolutionized the look, function of pens or even how pens write?  Has it developed a bit of a cult following?  Perhaps it is not famous but infamous?  Is it inexpensive or does it cost a small fortune?  Was it made by one of the “iconic” brands or do you have trouble pronouncing or even remembering its brand?  

If you were to build a collection of pens based on an “iconic” theme, what would you consider to be the “must-have” pens?  These hypothetical exercises are great – there are no limits, e.g., you are not restricted to modern or vintage pens, etc.  You don’t have to own the pen, have ever owned the pen or even want to own the pen!  Heck, you don’t even have to have any money!  Although, I don’t want to suggest that a pen’s cost necessarily influences its status as an icon.  I can think of very expensive pens that I would not be surprised if many thought of them as an icon, or conversely, others thinking of one of any number of inexpensive (dare I say, “cheap”?) pens that could easily fit the bill, e.g., Lamy Safari. 

Enough of my dribble, here are several groups of pens (with photos) that different members of the LPC view as being iconic and why:

 

1. Sheaffer Balance. 1930s. The Balance began the tradition of streamlining the shape of pens with tapered caps and barrel ends, along with the use of plastics in colours not seen before. 

2. Parker Vacumatic.  1930s. Striped plastics, ink stored right in the barrel rather than a sac, and an “interesting” filling system – the Vac is still what I think of when I think of vintage pens. 

3.  Parker “51”.  1940’s. A hooded nib. “Writes Dry with Wet Ink” to quote the advertising of the day.  Introduced in 1939 and in production until 1972, the Parker “51” sold in the millions and is of the most successful fountain pens of all time. 

4.  Sheaffer Snorkel.  1950’s. The Sheaffer Triumph nib (also known as the wrap around nib or conical nib) was continued on the Snorkel filler.  One of the coolest and most complicated of the filling systems, the Snorkel was made in a multitude of colours and finishes. 

5.  Sheaffer Imperial/Lifetime.  1960’s. I don’t have a Sheaffer Pen For Men (PFM) so I am including my 1963 Lifetime with the famous inlaid nib.  The PFM introduced the now iconic inlaid nib that Sheaffer continues to use on their pens to this day.  The Imperial, Targa, Intrigue and Valor models all have the inlaid nib. 

6.  Parker 75 in Sterling Silver cisele pattern.  1960’s. A classy looking pen.  I am still waiting to see one on the TV series “Mad Men”. 

7.  Lamy Safari.  1980’s. The Safari was first introduced in 1980 and hasn’t changed in 30 years.  A great starter or school pen that is available in an array of colours and nib sizes.

 Another member’s group of “Iconic Pens”:
 
  1. Aurora 88.  An elegant Italian design that functions perfectly and has a hidden cache of ink, if needed.
  2. Sheaffer Targa.  Simplicity and variety.  One could spend a lifetime collecting these classic fountain pens with the inlaid nib.  Just check out one of the best pen sites on the internet – sheaffertarga.com
  3. Pilot/Namiki Vanishing Point.  Many people think this pen has a cult following but I disagree.  How many people do you know that own at least one Vanishing Point?  I would not be surprised if 3 out of 4 pen owners have one – that’s not a cult, that’s a club!
  4. Delta Dolce Vita.  Ah, the sweet life!  The first time I saw this pen I thought it was a bit much, I mean, who has the nerve to use a bright orange pen like this, especially a conservative business man like me.  It did not take too much longer before I owned one.  Actually, I have the double desk set as well!
  5. Conklin Crescent Filler.  Even non-pen people know this pen, it’s the one that Mark Twain uses – because it won’t roll off of a table.
  6. Lamy 2000.  A wonderful example of design and functionality. A simple design, the pen is made of black makrolon and is a piston filler, holding a ton of ink.  The flagship pen of LAMY.
  7. OMAS 360.  The non-conformist’s fountain pen because of its unconventional triangulated form.  It’s the type of pen that you either love or hate.  I happen to love it.  Unfortunately, OMAS screwed up its original design when it redesigned its line of pens.  If you want one of these, get the older “vintage” model.
  8. Pelikan M800 Souverän.   I loved this fountain pen from the very first time I saw its green striped barrel at Sleuth & Statesman in Toronto.  While I actually bought the black-blue model with silver trim first, I just had to have the original black-green model with gold trim.  In my mind, the green striped barrel makes it the quintessential fountain pen!
  9. Parker Duofold.  Not a big surprise that the Duofold is on this list, although most people would probably cite the vintage “Big Red” model.  Most people would put the Big Red as one of a dozen or so pens in a core collection of pens.  I like the blue ones myself, especially this remake of the “True Blue”.
  10. Waterman Edson.  A legendary and elegant pen.
  11. Conway Stewart #28 “Cracked Ice”.  Colourful plastics have been a signature of Conway Stewart.  The names of many of these colours, such as this one in Cracked Ice, have been adopted by collectors over the years. Other personal favourites include Reverse Cracked Ice and Tiger Eye.  Truth be told, my favourite models are #27 and #60 – I just grabbed the first Cracked Ice that I came across so please forgive my oversight!

 One more member’s quartet of Icons:
 
 

From top to bottom:

  1. Parker Vacumatic. Hey, it’s a Vacumatic, what more is there to say?
  2. Sheaffer Autograph.  The Autograph has a much wider cap band than the Sheaffer Signature and used to be one of their most expensive models.  It has the clip and the cap band made out of solid 14K gold. In fact, you could send the pen to Sheaffer along with your signature and they would engrave it on the cap band. This cap band has yet to be engraved.
  3. Esterbrook.  A classic double jewel J (full sized).
  4. Parker 51.  This aerometric filler with gold filled cap is Cocoa in colour, while not as rare as Nassau Green or Plum, is fairly uncommon.

A different view of the same quartet: 

 
And finally, the best part of every pen club meeting – writing with someone else’s iconic pen – in this case, a Parker 65 Flighter! 
 
 
Maybe you agree with these selections, maybe you have your own views.  We would love to hear from you!  Let us know what your iconic pen is and why?
 

2010 Toronto Pen Show

A collection of comments from various members who attended the 2010 Toronto Pen Show (TPS):

By Owen

“The TPS, although small, was my first show. By far, the neatest thing about it was seeing all the pens that previously, you had only heard about. Pictures don’t do justice to the real thing. They certainly don’t show the beauty and detail that goes into making these instruments. One memorable table held several old filigreed eyedroppers. Nothing much to look at in pictures, but infinitely interesting in person.
I went with only a little bit of money, just enough to get something small and a bottle of ink. And I’m glad I did. Most,  I imagine, plan to get something really nice, or expensive, or unique, or even their grail, at a  pen show. It would have been nice to go with a hundred dollars and get an impressive, memorable pen. But I would have spent the whole time trying to pick out that particular pen, second-guessing what I really wanted. I would have only looked at pens that cost a hundred dollars. I may not have even seen those beautiful $500 filigreed pens mentioned above. I would see the price tag, move along.

So, to all those first-time pen-show-goers, I say this: Bring twenty dollars. It’ll be enough to get you something small, as a souvenir of the show. You will be able to spend your time a lot more wisely. By the time the next show rolls around, or you get onto the Internet, you’ll have handled dozens of pens, and have a much clearer idea of what you really want in a pen.”

By Mike

“I met a gentleman from the UK who kindly hand-delivered my copy of the new Conway Stewart book – Fountain Pens for the Million, The History of Conway Stewart 1905-2005 –  from the author, Stephen Hull (long story), I had also arranged to buy this gorgeous Swan 46 Eternal fountain pen when it came up on FPN (for less than what was asked here) but waited to have it brought to the TPS rather than pay for shipping.  The owner of the Swan was also interested in a 2006 LE mandarin Parker Duofold that I own but we could not agree on a price.

Swan 46 Eternal fountain pen

I have an Edison Huron with a custom grind steel nib but I decided that I wanted to have an Edison gold nib in it (also custom grind) so I met Brian there to pick up the new nib and have it swapped into the Huron.  I yakked with a bunch of people who I know, looked at a few pens (but did not buy) and bought a few bottles of ink (Noodler’s EL Lawrence – a green/black colour and Parker Penman Emerald) from Sleuth & Statesman.  I was hoping to buy some of the new Diamine inks like the Amazing Amethyst and Syrah but unfortunately there was a dearth of ink at the show.  Finally, I bought some large Apica recycled notebooks from Nota-Bene.”

By Dan

“Being my first ever trip to a pen show I was not sure what to expect. There was certainly more to see than I expected for what I had been told was the smallest pen show around. I was amazed and commend the vendors who made long treks to Toronto to bring us their wares. It was great to meet a couple of guys from the Michigan Pen Club, they were disappointed not to see Doug and John there (LPC members who could not attend) and asked me to relay greetings to them. Of course seeing most of the members of our neighbor club from Cambridge again was also nice. Sadly I did not purchase anything at this year’s show, which I think surprised my wife even more than it surprised me. All in all it was a fun day and I look forward to doing it again next year.”

By David

“Once my travel-mates had stopped squabbling about the position of the front passenger seat, the trip to Toronto proceeded smoothly enough with a discussion of pen show hopes and wishes. It was good to see a new natural light-filled room for the show along with familiar faces from previous shows. Following a brief tour around the tables, I settled down to examine a Parker Duofold Junior desk pen with a grey and white marble base. The seller had two – the esthetically less desirable model with the better nib, a nice juicy medium with stubbish tendencies. He switched nibs for me and the deal was done; I am very pleased with this pen, which writes like a charm.

Parker Duofold Junior desk pen

I bought a bunch of paper items from Russell at Nota-Bene, including some Apica notebooks (best value for money of any notebook), a Rhodia Clic Bloc mouse pad, some other paper and an Exacompta notepaper holder. There were a couple of other minor purchases before I bought a 32 oz. bottle of red Waterman’s Ideal Ink, bottle almost full and complete with original box. I won’t need red ink for a while.

Vintage bottle of Waterman's Ideal red ink

I spent a little time talking with FPN’s “goodguy” who showed me the four magnificent pens he had in his shirt pocket, including three Montblanc Writers Editions and the biggest pen I have ever seen, the Visconti Jewish Bible fountain pen. And of course it was fun to watch all the goings-on, such as Mike negotiating a potential trade, Rick drooling over a plum Parker 51, and Gord fondling his new Visconti Opera fountain pen in Honey Almond. The trip back was relatively uneventful; fortunately I managed to tune out some rather conservative and highly misguided political chit-chat by tuning into “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on NPR, which was appreciated by all.”


Blue Upon The Plains of Abraham ink

Label from bottle of Blue Upon the Plains of Abraham - a Bulletproof ink by Noodler's

Introduction

I recently came across a discussion on the Fountain Pen Network concerning a new, custom Noodler’s Ink made for our friends Murtaza et al at Sleuth & Statesman, i.e., Blue Upon The Plains of Abraham (BUPA).  As you can see from the above picture of the label, the artwork is very detailed and draws on (no pun intended) the historical significance of this location, namely, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (BOPA).  In fact, those of you who are more historically and/or artistically inclined may notice that the label is an artistic reproduction of A View of the Taking of Quebec, seen below:

A view of the taking of Quebec, 13th September 1759. (Library of the Canadian Department of National Defence).
A view of the taking of Quebec, 13th September 1759. (Library of the Canadian Department of National Defence).

A couple of nits about the label itself.  Obviously the Canadian flag is not historically correct.  I also must admit that I am confused by the meaning of the phrase “American Canadian Ink for Canada”.  I guess I could speculate a bit about that and maybe even rant; however, I have decided to let “sleeping dogs lie” in this instance rather than risk sparking a nationalist uproar.

History

Before I get to the ink itself, I think it would be interesting to review the history of the BOPA.  After all, it was only the most significant battle in Canadian history!  The actual Plains of Abraham (POA) was a large, flat piece of farmland on high cliffs to the west of Quebec City (and derive their name from a previous owner, Martin Abraham).  The BOPA was a battle fought between the French and English in 1759.  In less than an hour, the British troops led by Major-General Thomas Wolfe defeated the French forces commanded by Lieutenant-General le Marquis de Montcalm.  The French army retreated to Montreal and within a year had surrendered New France (Quebec). A few years later, France transferred its North American possessions to England.  Needless to say, had the French been successful in the BOPA, this blog might very well be written in French!

The Ink

Now, to the real reasons for you reading this blog entry – what is the story on the ink.

Cost and Availability

As I noted previously Noodler’s mixed up a limited number of bottles of this bulletproof ink for Sleuth & Statesman (S&S) in Toronto.  Unless you live in or around Toronto or plan to visit in the near future, you will have to email or call and have them ship the number of bottles that you require.  The cost of each bottle is around Cdn $25, including taxes, and shipping is extra (which will depend on the number of bottles and method selected).  Expensive, yes, but understandable in the circumstances – how else could S&S offer their customers a unique ink while recovering their costs and a small profit, if any, on such a small “batch” of ink (I thought that I read somewhere it was 50 bottles or so).

Performance of the ink

From what I have read, the ink has a strong magenta undertone that takes on varying and differing degrees of prominence.  It apparently can be so temperamental as to reflect those different undertones while using the same pen at different times!  Someone even referred to it as the Canadian “Baystate Blue” – not necessarily a particularly positive comment (to some people) but inaccurate, at least to the extent that the BUPA ink is labelled as being pH neutral – the Baystate line of inks are not.  On the other hand, it can very a very nice blue when the dyes stay mixed!

At our pen club meeting on Saturday morning, I test dipped the bottle with a Q-tip – the line that it laid down showed a variety of colours with a heavy magenta undertone; however, I did not see that special blue that I was expecting.  Perhaps it was because the ink was not as shaken up as it might have been (and that I can remain objective in my test dips and writing samples).

The first thing that I did on Sunday (after shaking the bottle a number of times) was create an ink swatch on Maruman grid paper with a Q-tip with ink from the bottle and then from the inside of the cap.  The results were much better than the first swab on Saturday, however, there is even a noticeable difference in these swipes.  When the ink is blue, it is a very, very nice blue; otherwise, I am not sure what to call it.

I then filled an old warhorse that I have, a Sheaffer Fashion fountain pen with a broad nib.  You can see the handwriting samples on first the Maruman and then the Whitelines paper.  In each case, the pen started skipping and then stopped after writing with it for a few minutes. When I chose to stop writing, capped the pen, and then tried to write with it again (less than five minutes later), the pen would not start – I had to pump the aerometric filler in order to restart the flow.  In my past experience with this Sheaffer pen, it has been a wet writer with a generous flow (I used it with Baystate Blue on a number of occasions without difficulty).  This ink felt very dry when writing on both paper samples, in fact, you could really hear the nib on the paper.  I could even tell that it was going to skip and stop, it was just a question of when.  The other thing I noticed on the Whitelines paper, was that the writing seemed to have a slight aura of magenta.

After leaving my desk and thinking about this for a bit, I thought it might be useful to try out this ink on some different paper (Rhodia reverse book this time) and using two glass dipping pens that I have.  What a disaster, as you can see below.  I tried both glass dipping pens with the same incredibly poor result – the ink either splatted off the pen or nothing, I could not write anything decipherable with it.  And there was clearly ink on the glass nib but it seemed to have dried almost instantly so that it was not able to flow from the glass nib to the paper.

Conclusion

This ink is incredibly temperamental – either the colour is not right or the colour is right but the pen is skipping and stopping.  I am going to have to decide if (and that’s a very big IF) it makes sense to invest some time trying the BUPA in different pens and on different paper to see whether there is a magical combination that works.

I applaud S&S for making the effort to provide their customers with a unique ink but it appears to me that something went wrong here.  I would love to see the test results for this ink and if they are positive, I would love to find out what I (and others) are doing wrong.  It should not be that hard, I mean, we are talking about fountain pen ink after all, not the formula for the fountain of youth.  I cannot believe that Noodler’s would put their name on ink that I can’t figure out how to get work in a fountain pen.